Whether you’re lactose-intolerant, vegan or simply sensitive to dairy, the transition away from traditional dairy milk is becoming ever-more popular. Regardless of motive, one thing rings true: dairy is out, plant-based is in.
According to plantbasedfoods.org, in 2017, the sale of plant-based milks saw a 3% increase. In just the first half of 2018, there was a 9% increase of plant-based milks and a 6% decrease of traditional cow’s milk. Fortunately, with more people steering clear of dairy, there are more plant-based options to replace the staple. Gone are the days when lactose-intolerant people were forced to drink soy milk or nothing at all. Almond, coconut, cashew (my personal favorite!) and oat are just a few of the options available for consumers today. People choosing to remove dairy from their diet can now do so with more ease. Each of these milk substitutes can work in baking, coffee, cooking and just enjoying by the glass, so let’s break down our options.
Milk Substitutes 101
Example: Califia Farms Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
Nutrition: 1 cup = 40 calories, 0g sugar, 1g protein
Almond milk has taken over soy milk as the most basic milk replacement. And while almonds are high in their nutritional value, it’s important to note that in milk form, the nutritional value is lessened because the pulp is removed. That said, coffee shops and grocery stores are likely to have almond milk products galore. When it comes to choosing favorites, I must say that Califia Farm products take the cake for me. They have just the right amount of flavor to not be overly bland (which too often is the case for almond milk) while not taking over the flavor of whatever you’re using. Their Unsweetened Vanilla Almondmilk is my favorite. In addition to your basic milk replacement, Califia Farms sells coffee creamers that blend well and don’t leave your coffee tasting watered down. They also offer a “half & half” option, which combines almond milk with coconut cream.
If you’re craving ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy options are mostly almond milk-based. You practically cannot tell the difference between a pint of Non-Dairy Cherry Garcia and the “normal” option.
Example: Simple Truth Organic Unsweetened Coconutmilk
Nutrition: 1 Cup = 60 calories, 1g sugar, 1g protein
Coconut is known for containing high amounts of fiber and potassium. But since coconut does have a fairly distinct flavor, coconut milk is not the option for everyone. It’s worth noting that there is a difference between “drinking” and “canned” coconut milk. The former is more watered down, while the latter is more chunky and better used for baking/cooking. Due to the high-fat nature of coconut milk, it froths extremely well, so it tastes great in coffee. (Try THIS RECIPE for Coconut Milk/Turmeric Anti-Inflammatory Latte and see what you think!)
Another good use of coconut milk for non-dairy consumers is in ice cream. The high fat content once again makes coconut milk a good substitute because it maintains the creamy consistency of ice cream without the milk. You can make it yourself using the canned type, or CoconutBliss in Chocolate Hazelnut is my favorite option in grocery stores.
Lastly, coconut milk is great for savory cooking: Soups, stews and even meat dishes are nicely complemented by the coconut flavor.
Nutrition: 1 Cup = 140 calories, 2 g sugar, 7g protein
In addition to containing healthy fats and protein, cashews are high in magnesium and copper, which, together, help bone and joint health. If you’re cutting out the calcium from traditional dairy milk, it’s good to build your bones in another way!
While cashew milk is not so common in grocery stores, it happens to be extremely easy to make yourself. All you need is 20 minutes, and you can have your own homemade cashew milk. What makes it so great is that you don’t have to strain it, so it really is as easy as soaking and blending cashews. I like to make large batches because it keeps quite nicely when sealed in the fridge. Since you don’t strain the milk, it is more caloric, but it also maintains all the nutritional value (extra vitamins) of cashews themselves. It also is extremely flavorful and frothy. I love it in cereal and baked goods especially. (Try this cashew milk hot chocolate recipe and see what you think!)
Another use for cashew milk is in savory cooking because when heated, it thickens, so it creates a “cream” base for pasta sauces.
Example: Planet Oat Original Oat Milk
Nutrition: 1 cup = 90 calories, 2g sugar, 4g protein
Oats are high in protein and fiber in addition to containing good antioxidants and vitamins. Oat Milk is becoming increasingly popular for coffee-lovers. The milk is both easy to froth and tastes slightly sweet. This combination is ideal for an artisan coffee. From chai tea to artisan lattes, oat milk perfectly complements the coffee flavoring. Next time you’re at your local coffee shop, be sure to order an oat milk latte and see what you think.
The other perk to oat milk is it is friendly to those with nut allergies. This makes just the plain, non-barista-blend oat milk a good option to keep around your kitchen. Like the other replacements, it works well as a replacement in baked goods or just as a plain drink. As far as both taste and consistency, oat milk is probably the closest to regular dairy milk.
It is important to be warned that although plant-based milks are often coined as “healthy,” some options are better than others. There are definitely some clean options available on the market, but the best is to make it from scratch. That way, you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. By making it yourself, you can also adjust the sweetness and flavorings to mix it up to your liking (cashew/almond milk? Oat/almond?). Try this DIY plant-based milk recipe and see what you think.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of good options, so you have to choose what works best for your wants and needs. Find which fits your tastes and makes you feel best.
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